Vintage Tracks Museum proprietors Jeff and Eileen Huff are selling off their collection
EAST BLOOMFIELD — Walking up and down the aisles of the packed-to-the-gills Vintage Tracks Museum, Jeff Huff ticks off the years, the brands and a few of the stories of how he obtained some of the antique tractors, farm implements and other equipment stored here.
Amid a sea of yellow, green, red and gray — heavy in Caterpillar and Cletracks — Huff, 77, gives a brief history of a Monarch tractor, a forerunner of the Allis-Chalmers tractors, dating back to when President Herbert Hoover was the U.S. leader grabbing headlines.
Around the bend, he shows off his personal favorite — the Holt 75 tracklayer, a mammoth 1918 brown machine at a little over 20,000 pounds that he picked up from a ranch in California.
“It was used to pull combines, disks, harrows and plows,” Huff said, going on to explain that all of these pieces of equipment — about 200 in all, not counting the neon and porcelain signs, toys and other smaller bits of farming memorabilia — hold a special fascination for him.
“They really built the world,” said Huff, adding that he hesitates to place a value to them — particularly as all of this will be auctioned off later in the month.
“Time will tell,” Huff said, laughing. “I haven’t even put a figure or thought about it. It’s getting to the point I want to pass it on for other people to enjoy. I’ve enjoyed it for 20-odd years here. It will all go to a new home.”
The museum will be open to the public for a second day Saturday, with an online auction set to begin Aug. 20 and end Aug. 24.
His business, Huff Equipment Co. in Honeoye, also marks its 60th anniversary on Saturday.
Huff, who by some accounts has one of the largest and most extensive Caterpillar and crawler tractor collections in the world, estimated that 200, maybe more, people were coming on Friday, some flying in from California and Iowa for the day.
In case you didn’t know, this is a guy who, when he was a kid growing up, had the choice of a bicycle or a toy road grader. He chose the road grader. And when he was in high school in Honeoye, he already owned a dump truck and a bulldozer.
“I had two men working on the addition to the schools, and I’m sitting in class, in high school,” said Huff, who still lives in Honeoye.
So, yes, the liquidation of the museum’s collection is a bittersweet occasion for him.
“I wouldn’t call it sad,” Huff said. “I know it’s time. It’s just another chapter in life.”
Back when he started collecting, he already had a few old tractors, but he really got the bug after talking with some collectors after an auction in Pennsylvania who pointed him to other pieces off the beaten track. Eventually, he was traveling all over North America on the lookout for antique representations of the way life used to be.
He’s brought home farm toys in suitcases and dismantled some pieces for transport in golf bags.
“It has been a fun 30 years of collecting, traveling the world, meeting interesting people and making many great friends,” said his wife, Eileen Huff, who also is proprietor of the museum.
And while these vehicles are of museum quality, most are functional. All but three of the pieces in his collection were run in, he said.
“I always loved the equipment,” Huff said. “It’s just fascinating, how things work, how they’re put together. Take it apart, put it back together and hope it runs.”
Of course, he’s making it sound easier than it is.
Take the 1929 Caterpillar 15 with a serial number of “1.” He found that in a barn in the middle of a cornfield. The inner workings were filled with raccoon nests, and it took about a month of slowly peeling the debris away before learning what he had.
“In finding every one of these tractors there is an interesting tale of its own,” Huff said. “To find them, to get them.”
And some of what he has he didn’t have far to go to find. He’s got a neon green John Deere sign advertising H.D. Converse & Son Inc. in Phelps and a 1963 Polaris snowmobile sold by Honeoye dealer John Kramer.
And you can tell marketing was as big back in the day as it is now. He’s got all sorts of hats with company names and logos.
He also has Caterpillar wooden clogs — who knew there was such a thing?
All of it is well preserved and well restored, said Clara Ocneanu, of Fairport, who likes to draw tractors, perhaps because her grandfather owned a farm in California. She said she had not heard of the museum until she learned of the auction, and now is sad to see the collection go.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Ocneanu said Friday. “It would be amazing to see these in action.”
Collector Art Reed of Delancey, Delaware County, made the trip upstate Friday and enjoyed poking around.
“It’s sad to see it go, but I guess you can’t keep it forever,” Reed said.
Many people over the years have been wanting to get their hands on a few of his pieces, but Huff said he wasn’t interested at the time.
Now is that time.
“When it goes, it’ll all go,” Huff said. “One shebang.”
Allen Crooker, who made the nearly four-hour trip here Friday from Norwich, Chenango County, collects crawlers and found a diverse collection with “neat pieces” you just can’t find anywhere else. He grew up on a farm, went to school, taught and now is interested in the farming life once again.
“Kind of going back to my roots, so to speak,” Crooker said. “I think that happens to people as they get a little bit older, they start thinking about their childhood and go back to what they grew up with.”
True for many, but not for Huff. In fact, it’s just the opposite for him.
Huff may be getting away from his hobby, but he has no plans of giving up the business, letting on that he may cut back to 50 or 60 hours a week.
“I’ve always been backwards,” Huff said.